ClintObama or McCain?

Other News Materials 28 March 2008 12:33 (UTC +04:00)

(RIA Novosti) - What the president keeps to himself, the nominee reveals. Needless to say, if John McCain is elected president, he will not say what he said to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

It would not be appropriate for the U.S. president to repeat that the G8 should "expel Russia," or speak about the need of "addressing the dangers posed by a revanchist Russia."

George W. Bush also criticized Russia before the 2000 elections, and even in the first months of his presidency. He started his Russian policy by expelling a big group of Russian diplomats from the United States. True, when he realized that he would have to meet the Russian president, he had to alleviate the embarrassment. Bush looked into Vladimir's eyes and was "able to get a sense of his soul," which he told the world, and, of course, his own voters, whom he had been vehemently trying to persuade to the contrary several months before.

Senator McCain will also have to come up with a nice story about his sudden recovery of insight, if he gets elected. But this is not so important. It does not even matter whether McCain or a Democratic nominee is elected. His critical remarks about Russia have tactical and strategic dimensions.

Let's address his tactic first (although compared to other issues, it may be more in the nature of a strategy). It is not at all an accident that his tough criticism coincided with Bush's statement about his intention to go to Russia and discuss contradictions in bilateral relations with outgoing President Vladimir Putin.

Both McCain and Bush are neo-Conservatives, who are still in control of U.S. foreign policy. Despite different manner of expression, their philosophy of relations with Russia is pretty much the same - the main goal is to weaken Russia or at least to deter it (but Russians should not suffer from megalomania - American policymakers are much more afraid of China).

Apparently, both statements constitute one tactically logical step - to seal at the top level the inevitability of the deployment of an ABM third positioning area in Europe.

Bush said he thinks that many people in Europe would give a sigh of relief if they reach agreement on missile defense, and expressed the hope that it would be reached. It is clear on what terms Bush is going to reach agreement. This sounds rather nice when compared to McCain's: "Rather than tolerate Russia's nuclear blackmail or cyber attacks, Western nations should make it clear that the solidarity of NATO, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, is indivisible and that the organization's doors remain open to all democracies committed to the defense of freedom."

The gist of this trick is simple. The Kremlin is given a choice - either come to terms with Bush now, or you will have to deal with McCain later on. Bush bluntly said that he is going to discuss a certain "strategic agreement" with Putin in Sochi. The American strategists are pushing their Russian colleagues to strike an agreement with Bush so that they could avoid a situation where McCain may refuse to talk with a "revanchist Russia" about anything.

Incidentally, in the same speech McCain not only promised to rebuff Moscow but also to become friends with Beijing. It is hard to believe in the sincerity of this friendship. His speech is aimed at making Russia feel under threat. This is a good-cop-bad-cop situation.

Americans once played this game when they discussed ABM with Russia in the late 1990s-early 2000s. The outgoing Clinton administration suggested amendments to the ABM Treaty, and wanted to deploy interceptor missiles in Alaska, and the Republicans, who were about to occupy the White House, wanted to cancel this treaty. As a result, the ABM Treaty ceased to exist.

Now the Americans are criticizing the Russians for not making concessions - if they had agreed to amendments on Alaska, the problem of ABM deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic would not have existed.

Today the Russians are being asked to think again. Maybe, it is better to accept this deployment than see a radar in Kyrgyzstan and interceptors in Georgia in eight years? Needless to say, they will not be directed at curbing Russia's strategic potential.

This is the gist of Bush's words interpreted with McCain's magic chanting. Despite its strategic dimensions, this is still a tactical aspect.

McCain's straightforwardness is strategic indeed (again, it will have to be covered up if he is elected - but this does not matter here). This is the quintessence of Washington's views on relations with Russia. Experts do not conceal this fact. It is enough to listen to Richard Holbrooke, who advises Hillary Clinton, or Zbigniew Brzezinski, who is trying to conceal his involvement with Barack Obama's team. They are Democrats but they think the same as Republican McCain about Russia (a marginal issue for American voters), although they argue bitterly on other issues, like healthcare, abortion, troop withdrawal from Iraq or the right to carry handguns.

Even public statements differ only in the extent of criticism of the Kremlin. No nominee has said, "Senator, we should not be afraid of Russia. It is our partner, almost an ally." Only the presidents talk like that sometimes at joint news conferences with their Russian counterparts. But as a result, these words may be a detail of the protocol. Missile interceptors will be brought to Poland in any event - but under the Democrats, this will be done more slowly, with more sophisticated arguments, and less resolve.

But what is the difference between the now universally loved Democrat Bill Clinton, who started the bombing of Yugoslavia in violation of the UN Charter, and George Bush, who did the same in Iraq? Who is better for us - Madeleine Albright, who was saying that missile interceptors in Alaska were targeted at North Korea rather than Russia, or Condoleezza Rice, who supports the same idea but in respect of Poland and Iran?

McCain's victory in the presidential election would escalate tensions between Moscow and Washington. But for all its disadvantages, there would be no illusions left. Everything would be clear-cut in the military style, and we won't hear charmingly ambiguous diplomatic niceties. Disappointment comes later and is blamed on interpreters. Those who have any doubts about Senator McCain can always re-read his speech in LA on March 26, 2008.

Some people may argue that sometimes presidents have revelations. Ronald Reagan, the author of the term "the evil empire" eventually became Russia's best friend. This did not prevent him from pushing it rather quickly to the abyss, and he did it quite well.

The question of continuity in U.S. foreign policy towards Russia is resolved much simpler than in Russia towards the U.S.. Words may differ, but actions are taken in one and the same direction. Which is the lesser evil - a Republican or Democratic option? Both are equally bad.